15 Classic Books That Were Once Banned

by Charlotte Ahlin

It's 2016. I'm just putting that out there because, despite the fact that it's 2016, some people are still trying to ban books. C'mon people. We're better than this. Banning books is nothing new, unfortunately, and some of the most renowned classics in the English language have been challenged, banned, and even burned in the past. Here are just a few of the classic books that were once banned, in honor of this year's Banned Books Week.

These days, books are more often "challenged" than banned outright in the U.S., so... I guess that's some kind of progress? Challenging a book means demanding that it be removed from circulation, whereas banning it means actually removing it. In 2015, some of the top ten challenged books were Looking For Alaska, Fun Home, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and The Holy Bible. So clearly a lot of worth while books are still facing censorship today (although to be fair, people have always been trying to ban the Bible).

Now wind back the clock and add in even more historical hang ups, and you wind up with a lot of brilliant classics that were banned, censored, and destroyed. Celebrate your free speech this week by reading one of these formally banned classics:

1. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Poor Anne Frank had enough to deal with during her actual life, without her diary being banned after her death. The Diary of a Young Girl has been pulled from libraries and school reading lists numerous times, but not because it deals with Nazis and the Holocaust. It's because of one paragraph in which Anne describes her anatomy in straightforward language (parents were horrified at the thought that their children might learn the correct names for their own body parts).

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2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Would you want to hang out with Holden Caulfield? Not really. But does he deserve to be banned from classrooms? Definitely not. The Catcher in the Rye has been banned in schools many times for swear words, references to prostitution and premarital sex, underage drinking, and, in one instance in a Florida high school, for being all around "unacceptable."

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3. Beloved by Toni Morisson

Like many of these books, Beloved is still actively challenged in schools today. In the past it has been banned for sexual content, discussion of bestiality, and depictions of racism. One parent, who tried to get the book banned at Satellite Beach High School in 2015, hadn't even read the book, but still wanted it banned for "pornographic" content. As he put it, “The fact that I don’t understand the central theme of it is of no consequence to me nor my wife.” Oy.

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4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was once banned in China because it included depictions of talking animals. This was considered inappropriate, because animals using a human language put them on the "same level" as humans. The book was also banned at a school in New Hampshire in 1900 for "sexual content" (what?) and "derogatory characterizations of a teacher."

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5. Ulysses by James Joyce

Ulysses was banned for eight years in the U.K. for its strong sexual themes. In America, it was taken to court, and 500 copies were actually seized and burned in New York. The novel was widely considered obscene during Joyce's lifetime. Although Ulysses is set in Dublin, it was never banned in Ireland during this time... but only because it wasn't available anywhere in Ireland, either.

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6. The Wonderful Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was banned by public libraries in 1928 for "depicting women in strong leadership roles.” Yup. It was also banned in 1957 by the Detroit Public Library for "bringing children's minds to a cowardly level," whatever that means.

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7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Huckleberry Finn was banned a month after its publication in Concord, MA for being "trash and suitable only for the slums." It remains one of the most frequently banned books in the world—although the reasoning has changed dramatically. Originally, Huckleberry Finn was considered vulgar for its ungrammatical language and its progressive, anti-racism stance. Since the '50s, however, it has been challenged for its racism and use of the n-word (which, all things considered, is a far better reason to criticize the book).

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8. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Black Beauty is a book about a horse who has a lot of unpleasant adventures... what's controversial there? Well, during Apartheid in South Africa, the book was banned simply because the word "black" and the word "beauty" appeared side by side in the title. YIKES.

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9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

When Australia bans a book, they really ban it. Brave New World was banned from Australia in 1932, and all copies were burned. It's also been banned in Ireland and India for depiction of drug use and casual sex.

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10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned in schools dozens of times. Usually it's banned for racial slurs, profanity, and sexual content, but it's also been ominously banned for content that "conflicted with the values of the community."

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11. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

If you thought China was the only country to get bent out of shape over talking animals, you thought wrong. Way back in 2006, Charlotte's Web was banned in Kansas because "talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural."

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12. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five has been banned quite a few times. In 1972, Oakland County, Michigan public schools banned it for being “depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian.” The very next year, a North Dakota school one-upped them by shoveling 32 copies of Slaughterhouse Five into the coal burner.

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13. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

China banned Green Eggs and Ham in 1965 for its "portrayal of early Marxism" (if you say so?). The ban wasn't lifted until 1991, when Dr. Seuss passed away.

14. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

It's always the books about censorship that get censored. Fahrenheit 451 has been banned, challenged, and literally censored—in 1953, a middle school gave their students the book with all the "obscene" words blacked out. More recently, the book was challenged because of a scene in which the Bible is banned... so someone tried to ban a book because it depicted books being banned.

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15. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Sure, Harry didn't arrive on the scene until the 1990s, but there's no arguing that the Harry Potter Series is already a classic. It's also the most banned book in America, and has been since 2001. Some parents see the series as promoting witchcraft, while others take issue with the fact that Harry "lies" and "disobeys authority figures." It's been banned outright at a number of American and British schools, most of them religious institutions... but I think it's safe to say that Harry isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

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Images: mybookbath/Instagram